2013-14 outlook: Chicago Bulls

Originally Published: October 8, 2013
ESPN.com

Chicago BullsGary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe band is finally back together. Can a recharged Derrick Rose lead the Bulls back to the top?

What's in store for the Chicago Bulls? Our panel of five looks back at the offseason moves (and nonmoves) and forward to what lies ahead in the 2013-14 NBA season.


1. What grade would you give the Bulls' offseason?


Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Insider: C. I have grown to like the draft after seeing their picks play, and I think Mike Dunleavy Jr. will fit in nicely. But I feel like there's a net value loss with Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson leaving, and I think they could do better than Nazr Mohammed as a backup center.

Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: C. On the court, they were cap-strapped but still managed to add Dunleavy via free agency. He will help off the bench and be the long-range shooter they haven't had since Kyle Korver left. Off the court, they lost assistant coach Ron Adams -- and created more questions surrounding Tom Thibodeau's long-term future in Chicago.

James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: B. With a returning superstar, Chicago didn't need to do any major roster reinvention. For the taxpayer midlevel, Dunleavy is a steal. He'll give the Bulls shooting and lineup flexibility. It's a shame they couldn't work anything out with Luol Deng, though.

Matt McHale, TrueHoop Network: B. Considering the Bulls' salary constraints, management couldn't do much. And in theory, they didn't have to, because the main pieces are already in place. The Bulls upgraded their outside shooting and playmaking by signing Dunleavy at a bargain (two years, $6 million), re-signed Mohammed for front-court insurance, and added a couple rookies with some upside (Tony Snell and Erik Murphy). They could use some more outside shooters ... but that's about it.

Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: C. The Bulls scored an offseason coup with the signing of Dunleavy, who replaces Belinelli. When you consider the bigger deals netted by shooters like J.J. Redick, Kyle Korver and Martell Webster, Dunleavy's a bargain. But losing Ron Adams, one of the top assistant coaches in the NBA, hurts.


2. What's the biggest question facing the Bulls in 2013-14?


Doolittle: Assuming the questions about Derrick Rose's knee have been answered, the next phase of that saga is how much his presence will improve the offense of those around him. It's an unselfish team that lacked shot creators a season ago. Can Rose's return open up the floor for a solid roster of complementary players?

Friedell: Can they stay healthy? It's a question every team faces, but it's more pressing for the Bulls given Rose's return from a knee injury and Joakim Noah's and Luol Deng's struggles through the years to stay on the floor. Rose's status will obviously hover around this team all season, but the health of Noah and Deng is almost as important.

Herbert: Can Rose return to his preinjury form? If he does, and he meshes with this group quickly, Chicago should be scary good at both ends and a legitimate title threat.

McHale: Can the core players stay healthy? The Bulls have won 85 percent of the games that Carlos Boozer, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng have played together. And Chicago has the league's best regular-season record against the Miami Heat (7-4) over the past three seasons. If the Bulls can avoid injury this season, anything is possible.

Rivera: Will Rose regain his MVP form? Now that "The Return" is over, the question on everybody's mind in the Windy City is whether or not Rose will play the way he did before tearing the ACL in his left knee. If his first preseason game is an indication, the answer to that question is probably yes.


3. Who's the Bulls' most intriguing player?


Doolittle: Rose is the obvious answer, so I'll step over to the next guy, Jimmy Butler. He's got all-defense potential, and he's shown a knack for making shots. He uses a very low amount of possessions. Can he take a step forward and become a secondary shot creator next to Rose?

Friedell: Jimmy Butler. The coaches love his work ethic and believe he can take the next step in his progression playing alongside Rose. If he continues playing solid defense and improves his long-range shooting the Bulls will be in good shape.

Herbert: Jimmy Butler. Even if Butler is the same guy he was last season, he should be more effective with the open looks provided by Rose's presence. There's also a chance he takes a leap if he continues to gain confidence in his ability to create.

McHale: Derrick Rose. He is the foundation on which everything has been built, but nobody knows whether Rose can regain his MVP form after missing all of last season. For his part, Rose has vowed to be even better. Butler's continuing development will be well worth watching, but all eyes will be on Rose.

Rivera: Jimmy Butler. He emerged as one of the NBA's best 3-and-D players last season, filling in for an injured Deng at small forward and then starting alongside him at shooting guard once the postseason rolled around. The question now is how good can Butler be? That's a storyline to look out for.


4. What's one bold prediction about the Bulls?


Doolittle: Marquis Teague will push Kirk Hinrich down a notch in the rotation, and will usurp his minutes at playoff time. The Bulls love Hinrich, but his metrics are in decline and injuries have taken their toll. During summer league, Teague looked like a player ready for more playing time.

Friedell: Rose finishes in the top five of MVP voting. It shouldn't be much of a surprise given how talented he is, but it seems like all the criticism leveled against him at the end of last season made people forget just how talented the 25-year-old point guard is. He is ready to prove all of his doubters wrong.

Herbert: Chicago will trade Luol Deng. If the Bulls don't want to commit major money to the veteran forward, they'll lose him for nothing next summer in free agency. Deng is integral to Thibodeau's defensive system, so trading him midseason won't be easy. But it might be an unavoidable reality.

McHale: The Bulls will have the best regular-season record in the East. They did it in 2010-11 and 2011-12 when Rose was healthy. Given Thibodeau's inexorable drive, Rose's motivation to prove he's still one of the best players in the league and the team's consistency, I think the Bulls will do it again this season.

Rivera: Chicago will finish with the No. 1 seed in the East. The Miami Heat will pace themselves during the regular season, opening the door for the Bulls -- with a healthy roster again -- to take the top seed for the third time in four seasons.


5. Prediction time: How far will the Bulls go this season?


Doolittle: Even though their projection is probably for 45-50 wins, I think they'll be closer to the general expectation of 50-55 wins. They'll contend for a 2-seed, and lose in the Eastern Conference finals to Miami.

Friedell: Eastern Conference finals. The Bulls are going to be a great team and should rack up close to 60 wins in the regular season. But they don't have LeBron James and I believe that will be the ultimate difference in the end.

Herbert: Eastern Conference finals. The semis would be a safer pick given the talent of the top-tier teams in the East, but these Bulls are more than capable of advancing past the second round with a healthy Rose.

McHale: Eastern Conference finals. The Heat haven't gone anywhere, the Nets have become a threat and the Pacers are a lurking danger as well. But if Rose regains his form and everybody stays healthy, the Bulls could end up facing the Heat in the East finals. And that's where the season will most likely end.

Rivera: Eastern Conference semifinals. With the Pacers overhauling their bench and the Nets reloading their roster, not to mention the Heat on a quest to three-peat, the Bulls' path to the East finals, let alone the NBA Finals, is going to be a difficult one.

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